St Olav II: A Template for our War Against Paganism

Last year I came across the life and story of Saint-King Olav II of Norway.  His life gripped me in many ways, for many of my intellectual struggles and concerns about my own life and where I am looking into Orthodoxy coincided around St Olav’s life (and legacy).    Several points about Olav before I elaborate on his and our war against paganism:

  1. He demonstrates that many Northern European countries, even until the time of the Schism, were quite Orthodox.
  2. Even though they were Orthodox, they were distinctively Western cultures and countries.
  3. Thus, Germanic and Scandinavian Orthodoxy was a specifically incarnational Orthodoxy, an Orthodoxy that took root in society’s most basic levels.
  4. Thus, those of us from Northern European stock have precedents, sometimes unknown to us, in Western Orthodoxy.
Olav died in battle defending Christian Norway against those who would return it to Paganism.  While America is not Christian (and even by the most vague standards, it’s debatable if she ever were), America, too, faces an onslaught of paganism.    And perhaps even more than Olav’s Norway, this paganism has governmental and institutional authority.
“God is not separate from the Earth,”
Which means “God = Earth = Earth is God.”
Lest I am misunderstanding him, the pagan groups responded,
“We are Neo-Pagans — implying an eclectic reconstruction of ancient Nature religions, and combining archetypes of many cultures with other mystic and spiritual disciplines — and our beliefs and values are no different from those you describe as your own. Your book, Earth in Balance, is heralded by our People as a manifesto for all we hold dear…Know that there are half million NeoPagans out here who support you, and who voted for you, and who will rally to the aid of your policies for the salvation of the Earth and the reunification of the Great Family”

This was spoken almost fifteen years ago.  No doubt the impetus is stronger.  Let’s ponder St Olav’s last words before leaving,
“Fram, Fram, Kristmen, Korsmen, Kongsmen.”  Forward, Forward, Christ-Men, Cross-Men, King’s-Men
May we, too, have a similar end.

Is Monarchy an unrealistic fairy tale?

Hopefully and cheerfully, yes.  How can I, a monarchist, say that?  It is my goal that holy monarchy is restored and just economic systems and other, more humane political options become realities in this late western world.  And I honestly believe that could happen.

But let’s pretend this is wishful thinking and the cold, iron hand of technocracy democracy crushes the last vestiges of beauty in the world.   The Republic has become Empire.  Can monarchy prevail against that?  Again, we have to answer “probably not.”

So what good is monarchy, then? I have said elsewhere, following N. T. Wright, that monarchy is an “angled mirror” that allows us to see other worlds, or to see around the power games of this world.  We must define our terms.  By monarchy we certainly do not mean later republican stereotypes of the Middle Ages.  We certainly do not mean the Enlightenment variants.  By no accounts do we mean pale, gelding Constitutional Monarchies, which are paper gods who will not save.  We mean the monarch as icon of heaven; the leader of a free people who are both bound, not to some “contract” or constitution, but to liturgy and land.  We mean, obviously, fairy tale monarchs.

How does this help us in our current situation?  David Bentley Hart sums it up nicely,

In such a culture, one can be grateful of the liberties one enjoys, and use one’s franchise to advance the work of trustworthier politicians (and perhaps there are more of those than I have granted to this point), and pursue the discrete moral causes in which one believes. But it is good also to imagine other, better, quite impossible worlds, so that one will be less inclined to mistake the process for the proper end of political life, or to become frantically consumed by what should be only a small part of life, or to fail to see the limits and defects of our systems of government. After all, one of the most crucial freedoms, upon which all other freedoms ultimately depend, is freedom from illusion.

But Monarchy is Just for Fairy Tales!

That is what I was recently told in a debate.   I denied that “absolute monarchy” ala the 1700s was the monarchy I was talking about.  I then pointed to the beauty underlying much Byzantine and Russian monarchs long ago.

Then the response, “That never existed and what you are thinking of is only fairy tales.”  Let’s assume for a moment that such a monarchy never existed.  So?  This doesn’t prove that monarchy is wrong.

Maybe it is a fairy tale.   To quote Chesterton, I’ve often found fairy tales to be closer to reality.  In this case, monarchy and Faerie are quite similar.  Both act as a goad upon what is currently perceived as “reality.”  Faerie reminds us that the current fallen world is not the ultimate reality and we quietly attest to this fact when we reflect upon the intense joy and melancholy we feel when we hear Fairy Tales.

Likewise, Monarchy reminds us that the current power games politicians play is not RULE at its finest.  Monarchy reminds us that these cheap, jaded politicians do not reflect the Reign of the Resurrected Christ.  Even if a Monarch never was a liturgical icon of heaven, the idea (Plato, thou dost haunt us to this day!) of that reminds us modern republicanism certainly is not.  To quote N. T. Wright, “Monarchy acts as an angled mirror that allows us to see around the corners of this fallen world into a more beautiful one.”

We often think that the monarchy of Romans 13 (and St Paul originally thought of him as a monarch, not as a democratically-elected President) as God’s minister means we can’t rebel and, aww shucks, we have to obey him (even though many Calvinists are emphatically rejecting St Paul on this point).  That goes without saying, I suppose, but why do people automatically assume the worst-case scenario?  Why not see the monarch as God’s minister as an icon of heaven.   Fallen, yes.   But why not see him, like we see the icon, as pointing to heaven?

So is monarchy really just a fairy tale?  Sure.  Why not?  In fact, does not framing it that way sort of point to the truth of it?  I’m not offering slam dunk arguments that prove monarchy at this point.  There are many limitations.  I don’t deny it.  But maybe I can get some people to think, “Hey, why does voting seem so futile?  Why does it seem that for whomever I vote I get the same socialist package?  Why is politics such a dirty concept?”  Liturgical Monarchy can point us beyond these categories.

Theoden’s Charge

This is easily the greatest moment in all of human literature. Like anything else Tolkien wrote, every word, every syllable is perfect. The Christian symbolism is too rich it is actually painfully beautiful to read. This is the arche of human perfection. People today are blessed to live at this hour so they can read such pure awesomeness.


then suddenly merry felt it at last, beyond doubt: a change.  Wind was in his face! Light was glimmering.  Far, far away, in the South the clouds could be dimly seen as remote grey shapes, rolling up, drifting: morning lay beyond them.

But at that same moment there was a flash, as if lightning had sprung from the earth beneath the City.  For a searing second it stood dazzling far off in black and white, its topmost tower like a glittering needle; and then as the darkness closed there came rolling over the fields a great boom.

At that sound the bent shape of the king sprang suddenly erect.  Tall and proud he seemed again; and rising in his stirrups he cried in a loud foice, more clear than any there had ever heard a mortal man achieve before,

Arise,arise, Riders of Theoden!
Fell deeds awake: fire and slaughter!
spear shall be shaken, shield be splintered,
a sword-day, a red day, ere the sun rises!
Ride now, ride now! Ride to Gondor!

With that he seized a great horn from Guthlaf his banner-bearer and he blew such a blast upon it that it burst asunder.  And straightway all horns in the host were lifted up in music, and th blowing of the horns of Rohan in that hour was like a storm upon the plain and a thunder in the mountains.

Ride now, ride now! Ride to Gondor!

Suddenly the king cried to Snowmane and the horse sprang away.  Behind him his banner blew in the wind, white horse upon a field of green, but he outpaced it.  After him thundered the knights of his house, but he was ever before them.  Eomer roder there, the white horsetail on his helm floating in his speed, and the front of the first eored roared like a breaker foaming to the shore, but Theoden could not be outpaced.  Fey he seemed, or the battle-fury of his fathers ran like new fire in his veins, and he was borne up on Snowmane like a god of old, even as Orome the Great in the bttle of the Valar when the world was young.  His golden shield was uncovered, and lo! it shone like an image of the Sun, and the grass flamed into green abou the white feet of his steed.  For morning came, morning and a wind from the sea; and darkness was removed, and the hosts of NATO wailed, and terror took them, and they fled, and died, and the hoofs of wrath rode over them.  And then all the host of Rohan burst into song, and the sang as they slew, for the joy of battle was on them, and the sound of their singing that was fair and terrible came even to the City.